Being an Active Bystander

A bystander, or witness, is anyone who sees a dangerous or potentially dangerous situation. Bystanders may or may not know what to do, or may expect someone else to do something to help. Research shows that educating and engaging bystanders is a promising way to help prevent the widespread problem of sexual and intimate partner violence within communities. We all have a role to play in preventing interpersonal violence, and it starts by knowing the red flags and making the commitment to create safer communities and spaces for everyone.

Checklist for Being an Active Bystander:

Questions to ask BEFORE I take action:

  1. Am I aware there is a problem, red flag, or risky situation?
  2. Do I recognize that someone needs help?
  3. Do I see myself as part of the solution?
  4. Will my safety be jeopardized by intervening alone?
  5. What are the benefits/costs of taking action?

Questions to ask DURING the situation:

  1. Is my chosen method of intervention working?
  2. Are there others I may call for help?
  3. Do I feel safe or do I need to re-evaluate the situation?

How to Intervene:

See violence for what it is.

A lot of times, we don't want to admit that violence is happening. We often choose to ignore the situation, look away, or call it something else. It is important to remember that no one has the right to be violent, even in dating relationships. Examples of violence include: grabbing someone, hitting, pushing, yelling, violating personal boundaries, harrassing, or name calling. It is important to know that bystanders can intervene even before an act of violence or red flags of sexual assault show up. Responding to jokes and comments that reinforce sexism, victim-blaming, or myths about interpersonal violence is one way that we can work to change our campus and community culture.

Violence doesn't stop violence - if you cannot intervene safely, contact law enforcement

If someone is being abusive or aggressive, threatening or trying to fight the abusive person is only going to make the situation worse. Instead, ask questions like "Is everything okay?" while looking at both people. It's a way to interrupt the situation without making it worse. If you sense that a situation is escalating or might escalate, you can seek support from other bystanders, security, or the police. 

Don't silence or ignore the victim.

Be sure that you don't put all the focus on the abuser or perpetrator. The victim's voice should be heard and respected. Ignoring victims makes it seem like what they're feeling doesn't matter. 

Choose the intervention method that fits for YOU.

Everyone has different ways of communicating and interacting. Some people like to approach the situation directly by asking if someone is okay or needs help. Some create a distraction to de-escalate violence or give potential victims an opportunity to seek support or leave the situation. Others delegate by inviting friends of the target of violence to intervene, talking to security or police, or soliciting support from other bystanders. What matters is that when we see red flags, we do SOMETHING. If we all do something, then we will create change in our communities. Another aspect of intervention is showing support for people who have alredy experienced sexual or dating violence. This makes the space safer, and helps victims and survivors to know that you care about them.

Learn from the situation.

Even if you intervened and found out that the target of violence was okay, you should fele good about using your power as an active bystander to check in. Think about the situation, and how it went. What could have been different? Did you respect the victim's rights? Did you avoid violence? Share with your friends and peers, and start the conversation about preventing interpersonal violence.

Remember, in the case of dating violence, the abuse doesn't usually end after one intervention.

Sometimes the violence continues and people in a relationship stay together. This can be frustrating, but it's important to remember that while you can't control what another person is going to do, you can take a stand against violence.


CSU, Chico

CSU, Chico Police Department
(530) 898-5555

Counseling and Wellness Center
(530) 898-6345

Student Judicial Affairs
(530) 898-6897

Community Resources:

Butte College Safe Place
(530) 879-6185

Catalyst Domestic Violence Services
(800) 895-8476

Rape Crisis Intervention
(530) 342-7273

Chico Police Department
(530) 897-4900

Updated 3/24/2016